Even as Harvard moves to begin construction on its multi-million dollar expansion in North Allston, residents of that neighborhood are raising concerns that the University is not doing enough to improve the Allston area. As part of its plan to build its new campus on the other side of the Charles River, the University proposed a $43 million benefits package to the Harvard-Allston Task Force, an advisory group to the Boston Redevelopment Authority comprised of Allston residents. The benefits will support new housing and homeownership in the neighborhood, as well as the Gardner Pilot Academy and other projects. Even though the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved the University’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston in October of last year and the task force sanctioned the benefits package, some Allston community members—including members of the task force—remain discontented with the University’s plans amongst Allston residents. The concerns of these residents are misplaced: while Harvard should and does work with the community, the current package is appropriate.
It is undoubtedly true that the University ought to work with its nearby communities to develop benefits packages that accommodate both Harvard’s long-term construction plans and the needs of affected communities. Each community has a unique set of needs, and the University is right to work with community members to develop ways to benefit its neighbors. These same neighborhoods, however, also must recognize that the University does not have unlimited resources. The University’s primary mission, moreover, is not community development, but teaching and research. It is not the job of Harvard to initiate a wholesale transformation of North Allston, nor was this former Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s intended purpose in encouraging regional universities to create community benefits packages.
The criticisms of the current package fail to take into account the significant benefits to Allston provided by the University beyond the limits of the package itself. Over the years, Harvard has already greatly benefited areas of North Allston through the development of Soldiers’ Field and the Harvard Business School; the University’s presence in those communities constitutes a large and powerful force. Harvard has also embarked on community-driven projects that are not tied to any construction plans, such as the redevelopment of Barry’s Corner in Lower Allston and the recruitment of family-owned small businesses.
Harvard, through past initiatives and the current benefits package, is already providing tremendous benefits to the community of Allston. The current package is sufficient, continuing in that trend.
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